Self-Sufficient Little Ones


My granddaughter Rebekah (4)

“I want to do it myself!”

Sound familiar?

Starting at about one-and-a-half years old, children yearn to be capable and strongly resist any attempts to do things for them. You can launch your little child into feelings of healthy self-sufficiency and capability by making life a little easier to manage for them.

Look Who’s Feeding Baby

Begin with your baby that wants to feed himself. Instead of spooning the food in his mouth and fighting him for control, try something we stumbled onto years ago. Scoop the food into a clean plastic jar lid (mayonnaise size is good). Mashed potatoes, yams, applesauce, oatmeal and other thick foods work best. Give the lid to the baby in a highchair and he’ll pick it up and eat/suck/lick it out of the lid himself, quitting when he has had enough. You can offer him a few lids, with different foods in each, and finish up the job with a spoon if needed. Baby learns quickly to feed himself right along with the family.

selfreliancedshoesNo More Backwards

Toddlers want to dress themselves, but it can be a frustrating experience as they always seem to get things backwards and inside out. You can help little ones have success in dressing themselves by marking on the back of their clothing. A black dot made by a permanent marker on the inside back of their underwear, pants, dresses, skirts, etc. will make it easy to spot which direction to go. I mark the back because that is where most clothes have tags and they can eventually learn that the tag goes in the back.

On clothes that come in pairs, such as shoes, gloves, and slippers; you can write the first few letters of their first name on the left shoe and the remaining letters on the right shoe. Most little ones recognize their name and can line up their shoes right. You can also teach them that the buckles go on the outside so they never touch each other when they put their shoes together. Lining their shoes up before they put them on means less tears and fewer times with backward shoes. (We live in troubled times, and making a child’s name available to strangers out in public may not be a good idea. But you can still write their name in small letters that aren’t visible unless close up.)

Put in a few low hooks in your child’s closet, or where you hang your coats, so your little children can hang up their own jacket. It only takes 5 minutes to install the hooks and saves 500 minutes of picking their coats up off the floor because they can’t reach.

Easy Laundry

selfreliancedresserI sort laundry into bins with the children’s names on them, and then they come every morning during our chore time before breakfast and get their bins. I don’t fold the clothing. They are expected to do that when they put it in their drawers. Too many times I have watched mothers neatly fold stacks of clothing just to have the children crumble and stuff them in their drawers.

With toddlers and children up to age 8, I label the drawers with a picture so they know what goes where. Little children are fully capable of putting away their own clean laundry neatly and returning their bin to the laundry room. When they are little, it doesn’t matter so much if they are do a good job of folding their clothes as t-shirts and pajamas don’t wrinkle much anyway. As long as they are in the right drawers, life still goes along pretty smoothly when it is time to get dressed.


toothbrush-141105_1280I get my little ones in the habit after every single meal to do “hands, face, teeth”. Often they trot in and do it themselves, or I just mention the words and off they go. Of course, “hands, face, teeth” means to wash your hands and face and brush your teeth. After they do this little routine, they come running to me with their toothbrush and I “check” their teeth. A dentist told me that children cannot do an adequate job of cleaning their own teeth until about age 12. So I have them brush their teeth, and then I rebrush them as I “check” them. Anyway, the whole ,”hands, face, teeth” business is an excellent habit that even toddlers can be taught after every meal. It keeps sticky hands off the furniture, keeps them looking presentable, and insures that their teeth are kept clean.

Little ones can do a great deal to help themselves and it brings them feelings of being capable and independent. Just taking a few minutes to make life more manageable really pays off.


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Pre-Reading Skills

shooting-star-147722_1280by Becky Ross Redwater, Alberta, Canada

There are many things that preschoolers could be learning to assist them in becoming ready for reading. Here are some easy things to try!

1. Hear and Identify Rhyming Words

  • Recite and memorize nursery rhymes and songs. Favorites are: Humpty Dumpty, Baa-Baa Black Sheep, Hickory Dickory Dock, Jack and Jill, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
  • Make them aware of the rhythm by clapping out the words or the syllables in the words to the song or rhyme (Twin­-kle, twin-kle lit–tle star . . .).
  • Repeat rhymes or songs having the child clap only on the rhyming words.
  • Continue to familiarize the child with rhyming by reading rhyming stories such as Dr. Seuss Books, The Teeny Tiny Woman, etc. . . .
  • More challenging songs to try at this point would be:

The Ants Go Marching
The ants go marching one by one, Hurrah, hurrah.
The ants go marching one by one, Hurrah, hurrah.
The ants go marching one by one,
The little one stops to suck his thumb,
And they all go marching down
Into ground to get out of the rain,
Boom! Boom! Boom!

Continue with more verses:
One by one – suck his thumb
Two by two – tie his shoe
Three by three – climb a tree
Four by four – shut the door
Five by five – take a dive
Six by six – pick up sticks
Seven by seven – pray to heaven
Eight by eight – shut the gate
Nine by nine – stand in line
Ten by ten – say “The End”

This Old Man
This old man,
He played one,
He played knick-knack on his thumb
With a knick-knack
Give the dog a bone.
This old man went rolling home!

Continue with verses:
One – on his thumb Two – on his shoe
Three – on his knee Four – on the door
Five – on his hive Six – on his sticks
Seven – up in heaven Eight – on his gate
Nine – on my spine Ten – on his hen

2. Rhyme Recognition

  • Match rhyming words by saying two words and have the child identify whether or not they rhyme. Does tree rhyme with sea?
  • Play “I Spy, With My Little Eye, Something That Rhymes With______________.” Gather pictures from magazines and set them out a few at a time asking the child to identify which one rhymes with the word you give.
  • Give the child a list of words and ask her to identify which one does not belong, such as: sat/mat/bat/sun, feet/cat/meet.

3. Complete Rhymes

  • Sing songs saying the first word and let the child supply the missing rhyming word. Try this one:

A Hunting We Will Go

A-hunting we will go,
a-hunting we will go.
We’ll catch a (mouse)
and put him in a (house),
and then we’ll let him go.

Other rhymes to use on this song could be: dragon-wagon; armadillo-pillow; bat-hat; bear-chair; butterfly-pie; cat-hat; crocodile-pile; crab-lab; deer-here; dolphin-muffin; frog-log; dragonfly-pie; duck-truck; kangaroo-zoo; pig-wig; porcupine-mine; raccoon-balloon; rat-vat; skunk-trunk; seal-meal; snail-pail; snake-cake; sheep-jeep; cow-plow; goat-boat.

Little Miss Muffet
Little Miss/Mr. Muffet
Sat on her tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
And sat down beside her
and frightened Miss/Mr. Muffet away.

Substitute other animals for the word “spider”, such as:
Along came a pig and took off her­­­___(wig)
Along came a sheep riding in a ___(jeep)
Along came a bunny licking some___(honey)
Along came a snake eating some ___(cake)
Along came a bee and sat in a ___(tree)
Along came a goat wearing a ___(coat)
Along came a dragon riding in a ___(wagon)
Along came a parrot eating a ___(carrot)

Five Little Monkeys
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed.
One fell off and broke his (head).
Four little monkeys jumping on a boulder.
One fell off and broke his (shoulder).
Three little monkeys jumping on hose.
One fell off and broke his (nose).
Two little monkeys jumping on a tree.
One fell off and broke his (knee).
One little monkey jumping on a couch.
Broke his toe and yelled out (“Ouch”).

Hickory, Dickory Dock

Hickory, dickory, dock, the mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one, and missed the (fun).
The clock struck two, and I lost a (shoe).
The clock struck three, and I landed on a (tree).
The clock struck four, and I opened a (door).
The clock struck five, and I fell on a (hive).
The clock struck six, and I dropped the (sticks).
The clock struck seven, and I went to (heaven).
The clock struck eight, and I opened the (gate).
The clock struck nine, and I climbed a (vine).
The clock struck ten, and it woke up the (hen).
The clock struck eleven, and I said hello to (Kevin).
The clock struck twelve, and I decided to (delve).

4. Production of Rhyme

  • Make up lists of rhyming words

“Tell me a word that rhymes with hop.” (pop, top)

“What rhymes with blue?” (Shoe)

  • Rhyming Riddles
    “This word rhymes with pop and bunnies do it, they ____.”
    “A fish named Jim, was learning to _____.”

Try some of these easy word games. You’ll find your little ones developing skills that will help in the deciphering of our language, preparing them to learn to read.


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What Do Preschoolers Need?

Rebekah loves to puzzle, just like her Daddy

What do preschoolers need?

That’s an easy answer: #1 they need YOU!

Yep: they need Mom, in all her constantly loving glory, with lots of hugs, snuggles, toe-kissing, hand-holding, hair-tousling, kisses, pats, holding-on-her-lap and listening. That’s the #1 need. And in your moment-by-moment interaction, be sure to lead them to the one who loves them most of all: God. In this, you will be doing the best thing you could for your young child.

#2 Routine
Little ones thrive on routine. Can you imagine living your life without a watch or a clock? Preschoolers can’t read the time (or figure out what significance it has) quite yet. They gear their daily living off of routines such as bath-time, meal-time, nap-time, a daily walk, bedtime and other regular activities. That is why vacation or Sunday can be so disruptive to them. If you want them to be content, set into stone some daily routine that they can depend on.

#3 An Enriched Environment
Preschoolers are trying to make sense of the world, and learning rapidly. You can help by providing sensory experiences for them, including taking walks outside in nature, reading them endless amounts of stories, setting up water play, teaching them grooming, cooking with them, enjoying animals, helping them remember good manners, playing puzzles, smelling flowers, interacting with other people (not necessarily children), and providing real toys and tools. Toys are fun, but real stuff is what learning is all about! My preschoolers always preferred playing with my wooden spoons and pots and pans to playing with toy pans. Little snatches of learning are great too, such as a 10 minute phonics game, but don’t tire them with much traditional academic work.

#4 Physical care
Good nutritious food, plenty of sleep, daily run-and-play exercise outside, and some small chores to work on will help them be healthy and happy.

And what don’t preschoolers need?
Television, running too many errands, lack of supervision, staying up too late, computer games, too many toys, listening to mom talk on the phone, getting their way all the time, video games, scolding, junk food, too much shopping, movies, lack of discipline . . .


Two of my grandbabies, Abigail and Rebekah, with me!


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Practice for Preschoolers

Rebekah does her cut-and-glue work

Rebekah does her cut-and-glue work

It’s school time…but what to do with the little ones? They want to have “school” too! They need activities to keep them happy and busy while you are teaching older ones. Here’s some of my preschoolers favorite “jobs” to do during school time:

1. Cut-and-Glue

Hands down, this is my preschoolers favorite fun at school! Simply take a piece of white paper and image-1draw a very simple outline drawing using big geometric shapes such as circles, triangles, squares, diamonds, etc. to make a picture. You could put a circle sun in the sky, a rectangle truck with circle wheels, a triangle teepee, and so forth. Then draw those simple shapes on different colors of paper. Give your child some child-sized scissors and a glue stick and let them cut out the shapes and glue them onto the matching shape on their picture. They can use crayons or markers to draw in details. This is lots of fun and great cutting practice! Stick it up on the wall for Daddy to see imagewhen you are done.

2. Pom Pom Sort

Glue several different colors of felt rounds into the bottom of the cups of an old muffin tin. Give your little one a bin of colored pom poms in colors to match the felt in the muffin tins, and let them use tongs to pick up the pom poms and drop them in the matching color space. Now that takes some coordination! Younger children can sort them with their hands or a spoon. This muffin tin is also great for noiselessly sorting buttons, beans, coins and more.

3. Lid Match

Save all kinds of plastic containers and their lids, plus jars and their matching lids, for a 4-5 year old who can handle this project. I kept mine in a computer paper box, and brought it out once a week or less to keep it novel. Just match the tops to the bottoms! A very challenging puzzle! This skill can soon be translated into the task of matching plastic containers with their lids in your kitchen storage cupboard.

image-24. Tracing Time

You can build fine motor coordination, so necessary for writing by using tracing to help your preschooler learn to control a marker, crayon or fat pencil. Just paper-clip a piece of tracing paper firmly to a coloring book page (torn out of the book) and have your child trace over each line. It’s exciting to see the image appear on the tracing paper! This is excellent practice to make a wonderful future writer.

5. Puzzle Dump Challenge

If your preschooler has mastered all the kids’ puzzles you have in your school room, you can give him a project to master by taking 2 or 3 (or more) puzzles and dumping all their pieces in one pile. Lay the puzzle frames in front and let your student figure things out.  Exciting and challenging!

6. Pattern Train

One of the kindergarten math skills requires learning to replicate a pattern. Preschoolers can learn this and have fun with it. Using big legos (buttons, game tokens, toy cars, color markers, dollar store poker chips or any other manipulatives), create a pattern for your child to follow. Start simple. You might set up a row of toy cars in a pattern: red, blue, red, blue, red, blue. Now it is your child’s turn to make a very long train following your pattern over and over. As their skills develop, make the pattern more complicated: red, blue, yellow, yellow, green . . . and repeat . . . red, blue, yellow, yellow, green…repeat. Let your little one take a turn making a pattern train for you to follow, too.

Keep ’em busy!


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How to Teach Preschool

My little Louisa rides her scooter!

Teaching preschoolers is great fun! If you’ve got little ones, your are in for a treat when it comes to teaching them “school”. They are curious and love to do things with Mom! 

You can teach your little one all yourself, or you can assign an older child to take charge some of the time. If you are teaching other older siblings, you can just have your preschooler join in for some of the school time for them, while you sing together, read aloud, do art, etc. and other whole family activities. Preschoolers will beg for their own workbooks and assignments. But if you are teaching just preschoolers, here is how I teach preschoolers.

Set aside an hour each morning for “learning time”. How do you take up a whole hour? It will speed by!

We begin homeschool with a flag salute. Even a 2 year old can say some of the Pledge of Allegiance. Then we have a prayer, and sing some songs together. If you start singing with your children at a young age, they will grow up singing, and it becomes a source of enjoyment rather than self-consciousness. I often teach my little ones new songs based on the upcoming holidays. Before Easter, we learned the song, “Jesus is Risen”. It is amazing how well a 3 to 5 year old can learn the words!

image-6Next, I teach a principle or skill with my child that would help him develop. This is just a simple concept taught with stories, songs, pictures, games and anything else I can find to keep his interest. Basic life skills for a preschooler are knowing his parent’s names as well as his address and phone number, how to use the telephone, dial 911, how to cross the street looking both ways (although I still require that someone walks them across), how to practice good safety habits, how to greet another person, and all the many other important skills for learning to function independently. I look for library books on courtesy, manners, proper hygiene, and safety…and also buy my favorites. I raise my children on the Standin’ Tall book/CD sets. They teach virtues such as honesty, obedience, service, cleanliness, and a host of others.

The 21 RulesMy favorite book for teaching little ones how to act is The 21 Rules of This House. It includes small posters that you can color and tack up to memorize and discuss. I print off two copies of the poster, and we have fun coloring together. I teach one rule at a time and post my child’s work. We talk about that rule until we have learned it well. I tuck my colored page into a page protector and add it to a binder, to be used to review the rules we have learned so far at the beginning of our learning time.  One way I use this book is to quiz my children by showing my colored page, and letting them try to say the short rule. I also point out times during the day when they are keeping one of the 21 Rules! Practice makes perfect!

Remember that training in good habits is essential at this age. Nothing can sabotage teaching your children faster than a child’s unwillingness to do what you say. If you have not taught your child to obey and follow your words the first time you ask him, then that is an important first lesson. I practice with my little ones, even role play giving them a command, having them reply, “Yes, Mother” and move quickly to action, Simon Says style. Teaching your children this pattern of “listen-respond-act” will serve them well their whole life and keep your homeschool happy and productive.

My homeschooled son Daniel is now a father, reading to his daughters Rebekah and Abigail.

Next comes one of the part of homeschool that everyone enjoys: read-aloud time. It is incredible how much children learn this way. An excellent book I have used for good reading recommendations at each level is Honey for a Child’s Heart. It describes wonderful books for read-aloud that promote Christian values. It has been an essential help in my homeschool and will provide you with many excellent book titles to find in your public library.

Children’s picture books make a great springboard to learning about the world! Library books can keep a steady supply of new fun, read-aloud books coming into your home, but do use caution as many of them contain black magic, monsters, disrespect to parents and God, globalism, rights of the child, etc. Whenever I don’t screen the books at the library before my children check them out, I regret it. One incident I remember well: my little son asked me if I wanted a drink of vampire’s blood? (Shock!) I suspected where he got that idea, and hunted it down to a library book/CD set, that I had not screened carefully enough. It is up to us as parents to make sure that our vulnerable little ones get only the best!

After reading a picture book, we work on pre-reading skills. Start preparing your preschooler for reading by playing with puzzles. The slight differences will train your child’s eye for future discrimination of letters. I like Lauri Perception Puzzles.

For very young ones (2 to 4 years), I absolutely love the Kumon workbooks which are excellent for tracing, cut-and-paste, imageand learning to control a writing implement. After Kumon, we progress to Adventures with Books (one of the Early Learning Workbooks series). Little ones will learn how to identify colors, count, color, write letters, and more from these fun workbooks.

7073When your little student is ready to learn his ABC’s and you want to start real phonics, please try Happy Phonics. I guarantee that your children will love to do phonics lessons and that they will quickly learn to read by playing this collection of tried-and-true simple games that teach reading, step-by-step. I think the Explode the Code Primers are the best way to teach the handwriting of each letter, as well as reinforcing and practicing the phonics sounds taught in Happy Phonics. The workbooks give lots of practice and are varied and fun. Using the Explode the Code primers and Happy Phonics, you will be able to give your child the gift of reading in a fun and happy game format.

thumbnailFine motor coordination usually develops faster in girls than boys. You can aid it by using tracing to help your student learn to control a pencil. Paper clip a piece of tracing paper to a coloring book page and have your child trace over each line using a fat crayon or jumbo pencil. As he practices tracing, he will learn control and be ready to start writing. Using maze books is another great way to gain fine motor control of that pencil!

An important first writing lesson for a preschooler is his own name. Write your child’s name (capital first letter, small letters for the rest of their name) on the top of a piece of lined handwriting paper in yellow felt pen and let him trace over your writing. When your student is learning to form letters, it is important to really supervise and watch carefully that you are not allowing mistakes to become firmly cemented habits. Show him that you start most round letters ( such as a, c, d, f, g, etc.) on the right side and then go “up over the mountain and around”. Eventually advance to have him try writing his name without tracing your pattern. Explode the Code has good instructions and practice pages. Holding a pencil incorrectly can be the beginning of writing problems, so pay attention early and help him get into a good habit. Get a handwriting tablet with wide spaced lines so that he can practice writing the letters he learns, and practice writing his name. Using the chalkboard is great for little ones working on their letter formations. You write the letter very lightly on the chalkboard, about 4″ tall, and have your preschooler trace over them.

image-1Doing a little math daily helps form a habit that will last through your child’s school years.  You can easily teach your child to count 0-10, which is the main skill for preschoolers. I make up flashcards (0-10) to play with. Have your child put them in order, or count out beans or pennies to match each card’s numeral. You can teach them to write the numbers as soon as they are ready. If you want a good program, I recommend Earlybird Singapore Math which is filled with colorful write-in pages that prepare your child to enjoy math. Just one page a day is plenty!

Draw a map of your home, highlighting his bedroom. Expand to a map of your block, complete with highlights of the neighborhood—the black dog lives here—an eventually your state. The main concept to teach a preschooler is where he is!  A USA map posted on the wall or a USA placemat to eat on is a good way to understand location and start state recognition. My 4 year old can locate our state plus both states where his grandparents live, which is exciting to me!

image-4Fimage-5or science, you couldn’t ask for better resources than the great outdoors. Grow a garden, care for pets, look at trees and leaves, take a nature walk—nature is the best teacher at this age! If you want some help, I would invest in equipment such as a bug viewer, magnets, binoculars, a magnifying glass, and the like.

Doing experiments has lots of appeal too: The Big Book of Play and Find Out has creative and fun hands-on experiments to help your little one get a first taste into chemistry, physics, biology, and more. Library books with drawings, photographs and information on animals and nature are a great addition.

14009Training your child to appreciate good music is a matter of exposure. Play fine music, such as the 25 Children’s Classics, during times when your little one is drawing or playing with Legos, so that your child learns early to love excellent music and hears a wide variety. As the child becomes familiar to music, introduce the Beginner Toddler Music Band and teach him how to keep time with the music.

Art seems to be the favorite subject of most preschoolers. At our houimage-2se, we love to model clay and paint with watercolors on scrap paper! I choose an art project to do from Scribble Art. (This is a good assignment for an older child in the family to teach and they enjoy it as much as your preschooler will.)

Dramatic play and dancing is exciting for preschool children. I browse yard sales and thrift shops for unique dress-up clothes. One pair of metallic gold elbow length evening gloves has been in our family for 20 years and every child has played with them, boys and girls alike. They have been robot arms, Cinderella’s costume, and part of many other imaginative creations. image-3Hand puppets are also good for dramatic play.

Teaching preschoolers is so much fun! This is when the basic habits are being formed and you have tremendous influence on their future values. Whether you have a very eager little one, who is anxious to read, or a happy-go-lucky type that is content to move along at a slower pace, there is plenty you can do to make these very formative years productive. I hope you enjoy teaching your little ones.


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Rebekah does her cut-and-glue work
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